Album of the Week: Felicidade, Gary Morgan & PanAmericana!

by chip on July 18, 2008

Gary Morgan & PanAmericana
Consolidated Artists Productions

Afro-Cuban Jazz and Brazilian Jazz share the most popularity in the Latin Jazz world, but most Latin Jazz big band projects in the United States remain decidedly slanted towards Afro-Cuban Jazz. Historically, Afro-Cuban music became popular in New York at an essential time when big bands were thriving and bebop was becoming more popular. The American public got their first taste of Afro-Cuban Jazz through big bands led by Machito, Tito Puente, and Dizzy Gillespie, among others. Financial issues and artistic diversity eventually drove the majority of Afro-Cuban Jazz into the small group format, but the style remained forever linked to the big band instrumentation. Brazilian Jazz became a piece of the American landscape when the combo was already firmly entrenched as the main performance format. Influenced by combinations of bebop, cool jazz, and modal jazz, Brazilian Jazz grew into a small group style, driven by bossa nova and samba. Latin Jazz musicians have integrated Brazilian styles into big band repertoire over the years, but numerous possibilities have yet to be explored. Gary Morgan & Panamericana venture into many of these unexplored territories on their album Felicidade, an intricate group of big band Latin Jazz performances.

Tackling Pieces From Modern Brazilian Composers
Several songs reveal Morgan’s high-level skill as an arranger as he tackles a number of pieces from modern Brazilian composers. A delicate woodwind duet floats over a rubato piano accompaniment on the introduction to Itiberê Zwarg’s “Pedra Vermelha,” leading into a thick band sound. After a rhythmically bouncing melody spread between woodwinds and trombones, pianist Cliff Korman spins logical melodies over the samba foundation. Trombonist Jeff Bush jumps right into an improvisation over a saxophone background line that provides momentum to his rhythmic solo. The saxophone section charges a furious line through a series of band hits to open Hermeto Pascoal’s “Viajando Pelo Brasil,” and then the group follows the inertia into a driving melody. Bassist Andy Eulau relies upon moving sequences to build an engaging statement that transitions into an enthusiastic improvisation from baritone saxophone player Terry Goss. Morgan pulls together tonal colors from the different sections into an intertwining interlude, which sets up a tasteful solo from trumpet player John Bailey. Goss provides a sensitive reading of the melody on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “A Felicidade” over the rich texture of a brass choir. After an energetic restatement of the melody over an up-tempo samba, Goss explodes into an impassioned solo, pushed higher by strong background lines. Trumpet player Chris Rogers mixes flowing lines with a bebop flavor on his statement that moves into a clever shout section. Korman establishes a series of rhythmic ideas echoed by the saxophone section on Jovino Santos Neto’s “Batuki Di Bangu,” followed by a funky melody. Saxophonists Todd Bashore and Bruce Williamson trade enthusiastic blues licks that drive the rhythm section into a heated climax. The intense funk sound disappears as the rhythm section quiets for a muted solo by Bailey, which glides over some inventive flute background lines. These tracks reveal Morgan’s keen ability to creative interprets a variety of compositions, and his inclusion of diverse Brazilian composers reflect a broad study of the music.

Richly Arranged Original Compositions
Morgan shines as a composer on richly arranged pieces of Brazilian Jazz. A constant surdo emphasizes drummer Ray Marachica’s bossa nova underneath rhythmic chordal patches in the winds on “Tudo Bem,” leading into a lush melody played by Rogers on the flugelhorn and tenor saxophonist Dave Riekenberg. The rhythm section jumps into a double time samba feel as the winds drive short rhythmic ideas over the percussion and then restate the melody with a full band sound over the bossa nova. Rogers builds a melodic idea over the bossa nova until the band pushes him into the double time feel, driving him into a series of quick lines. After a richly orchestrated interlude, Riekenberg improvises over the same form, developing his statement into a series of long phrases. The wind players boldly push a bluesy line over a maracatú rhythm, which transitions into an open melody riding on a baiáo feel on “Moragatu.” After an assertive interlude over the maracatú driven by powerful brass playing, the band shrinks to a minimal baiáo for tenor saxophonist Ben Kono’s improvisation. Starting with strongly developed melodic statements, Kono collaboratively builds his statement with the rhythm section, growing into a frenzied series of notes. Morgan’s compositions show an understanding of several Brazilian styles, but also a talent for creatively manipulating them into larger structures that hold rich jazz harmonies.

Influences Outside The Brazilian Tradition
Three tracks reflect influences outside the Brazilian tradition. A simple yet catchy melody moves through a variety of melodic and textural variations over a son montuno rhythm on “Because Why?” Bush attacks his improvisation with syncopated rhythms and rapid phrases, cutting through the airy background lines with a powerful voice. The rhythm section establishes a funky vamp behind a brass mambo that moves into a well-constructed improvisation from Korman. Lush chordal patches and beautiful melodies give an almost symphonic feel to the introduction on “Dream City,” which gently moves into a delicate melody over a bolero foundation. Morgan utilizes his group’s unique instrumentation to color the harmony, drawing upon french horns, flutes, and clarinets. Riekenberg’s soprano sax and Rogers’ flugelhorn get extended solos, which they both fill with thoughtful lines that combine blues notes with sophisticated phrases. A pedal tone over a son montuno provides the foundation for a quick improvisation from Korman on “Celtic Echoes Theme,” leading into a menacing minor melody. Korman draws upon the harmonic freedoms of the pedal tone to build a quick but impressive improvisation. Rogers gets more time to explore his ideas, spinning long phrases over a variety of textures. These tracks display a fluent command of Latin styles outside the Brazilian tradition, giving a hint of even more artistic directions.

A World of Possibilities
Morgan and his group reveal of world of possibilities inherent in Brazilian big band jazz on Felicidade, driven by Morgan’s fine tuned orchestration skills and smart repertoire. Morgan’s ability to extract less common sounds from the ensemble and then place them in primary roles sets his group apart from most big bands. Small groups of flutes play background lines, french horns thicken harmony, and muted brass color the band’s tone; there’s a sonic richness to the ensemble that escapes most big bands. He consistently maintains the rhythmic power of the Brazilian genres – from Batuque to Maracatú, the rhythms propel the compositions. They never become the music’s defining factor though; they simply sit on par with Morgan’s deep textural concept. As a composer, Morgan spins clever variations upon standard conventions from the Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, and straight-ahead jazz big band format. The songs stay connected to the music’s rich lineage, but the numerous and clever variations stem from Morgan’s artistic prowess. Morgan’s use of compositions from modern, and in some cases lesser known, Brazilian composers provides a look into a fresh musical world. He dug deep to find unique repertoire, and in turn, he brings an intriguing sense of authenticity and discovery to the band. Morgan opens the door onto many possibilities on Felicidade, but two major factors stand out – the opportunity to establish a modern and distinctive Brazilian big band jazz sound and the emergence of an arranging stylist with the massive potential for future endeavors.


Check Out These Related Posts:
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Album of the Week: Marooned/Aislado, Papo Vazquez and the Mighty Pirates
Album of the Week: Song For Chico, Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra
Album of the Week: Alma do Nordeste (soul of the northeast), Jovino Santos Neto

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Gloria Hough July 19, 2008 at 8:06 pm

I’m from the south, i.e. Louisiana, and I love the way this music lifts me up every morning on the way to work. It is the best and continues to amaze me with the bouncy new sounds. I’ve always admired the big band sounds and this mix is so unusual and beautiful.

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